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Memorandum March 3, 2020

AU Community
Marc N. Duber, Chair, Board of Trustees
Board of Trustees February 2020 Meeting Summary

The American University Board of Trustees meeting on February 27-28 focused on the exciting and impactful scholarship and research of our faculty, emerging matters that the university is addressing in real time, and key priorities within our Changemakers strategic plan.

Following a full day of committee meetings on February 27, the trustees had a dinner discussion with Dr. Terry Davidson, professor of psychology and director of the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS). Professor Davidson provided fascinating insights from his research on the human brain and the effect of diet and nutrition on the blood-brain barrier. This was an appropriate discussion leading into the business meeting, where the trustees approved a new Department of Neuroscience in CAS and heard an update about the ongoing construction of the new Hall of Science, which will further support cutting edge research by our faculty.

The dinner also marked a transition within the university leadership team. The trustees and President Sylvia Burwell thanked outgoing Vice President and Chief Information Officer (CIO) Dave Swartz for his excellent service to the university and presented him with a resolution of appreciation. President Burwell also introduced the university’s new CIO, Steve Munson.

February 28 began with an annual breakfast discussion with approximately 40 faculty members representing all eight schools and colleges that explored opportunities for enhancing faculty research and scholarly work as part of the Changemakers strategic plan. The participants discussed the needs of both tenure and term faculty and specific ideas that could produce more collaborative research across the institution. The enlightening discussion showcased the dedication and expertise found across the AU faculty.

Following breakfast, President Burwell provided an update on the university’s ongoing preparation and response to COVID-19 (Coronavirus). With unique experience as the former Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), where she led the country’s response to disease outbreaks such as Ebola and Zika, President Burwell explained what public health authorities know about the virus to date, the evolving situation in the U.S., and the appropriate preparations underway at AU.

The trustees heard two presentations regarding elements of the university’s overall strategy. Vice President of Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence Dr. Fanta Aw highlighted the achievements of Years 1 and 2 of the Inclusive Excellence plan and the lessons learned that contributed to the updated approach for Years 3 through 5. The trustees considered measuring success in the plan and how to address issues that arise in real time and in public. This included meaningful input from the student trustees and campus representatives.

Next, Vice President and Chief Communications Officer Matt Bennett led the trustees in a moderated discussion of priorities and opportunities for the AU brand. The updated brand will be fully integrated with the launch of the university’s comprehensive fundraising campaign in the fall. The trustees explored questions of whether the brand should focus on key strengths of the university or capture more broad themes, and how to energize all segments of our community around a call to action.

In keeping with the board’s commitment to promote transparency and integrity throughout our community, the trustees approved revisions to its Policy on Reporting Suspected Misconduct (also known as the Whistleblower Policy). The updated policy strengthens oversight and enhances methods for reporting.  

The trustee Class of 2023 – Hani M.S. Farsi, Fernando Lewis, and Charles H. Lydecker – were unanimously reelected. The board also approved the election of John Heywood as faculty trustee (2020-2022) and Benjamin Holtzman as student trustee (2020-2021). Finally, the trustees thanked our outgoing campus representatives – Adora Luster, Graduate Leadership Council president; Teagan Sebba, Student Bar Association president; and Angela Chen, Student Government president – as their organizations will hold elections for new leadership before the next board meeting. Their insightful contributions over the course of this year have enhanced board discussion and understanding of key community issues.

Following inspiring videos honoring AU men’s basketball star Sa’eed Nelson for setting the all-time school scoring record and showcasing recent highlights of AU student-athletes on ESPN’s SportsCenter and other national outlets, the board adjourned. The next meeting of the trustees will be May 14-15, 2020.